By Will Hunter
On Wednesday the AFL made the historic announcement that eight teams will compete in the inaugural AFL National Women’s League competition in 2017.
Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantile, GWS Giants, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs have all been granted licences into the new female national competition, which will feature four teams based in Melbourne and four ‘interstate’ sides.
Participation in girls’ footy has been steadily growing at a junior level, and now opportunities will exist for the best players to strut their stuff at the elite level.
But at the other end of the spectrum, as with most AFL stars, it all begins at Auskick level.
On the Queen’s Birthday Monday, 50 girls from Auskick centres across the inner southern region were given the opportunity to strut their stuff at Trevor Barker Oval.
The girls, aged between five and eight, participated in grid games during half time of the South Metro JFL’s Under 15 Girls interleague match against Yarra JFL.
The half time break of the AFL Victoria Metro Junior Championships match was extended to allow for four individual grid games to be set up on the ground, with the girls later lining up to form a guard of honour to welcome the Under 15 South Metro Stars back on to the field.
And it was a tremendous success as the young girls relished the opportunity to participate on the big day and join in post-match festivities with the Under 15 girls’ players.
AFL Victoria’s Regional Development Manager for the Inner Southern Region, Gary Brown, said it was not only a great advertisement for the youth girls football programs in the region, but was also rewarding to see all the girls involved on Monday really enjoying their footy.
“Collectively we were able to give all of the girls, both the Auskickers and the Under 15s, an experience they won’t forget,” Mr Brown said.
“To see the Under 15 girls visiting Auskick centres as ambassadors, signing autographs and footballs for the Auskick girls was a sight to behold.
“The Auskick five, six and seven year olds forming a pre-game and half time guard of honour and joining in with the Under 15 girls circle to sing the South Metro Stars song after the match in the rooms was priceless.
“I have not seen a better advertisement for female football and the pathway anywhere.”
Mr Brown said that increasing girls’ involvement in Auskick program has been a particular focus in recent times, and we are now seeing positive results emerging from their efforts.
“Last September, I approached Sandy Chalmers (Dingley Auskick) and Deborah O’Reilly (Elsternwick Auskick) to become District Managers, focusing purely on the engagement and development of ‘Girls in Auskick’,” Mr Brown explained.
“With vision, strategy, planning and dedication we have seen ‘Girls in Auskick’ go through the roof in this region.”
Figures released earlier this year validate Mr Brown’s claims, revealing that the number of girls’ Auskick registrations in 2016 has increased by a whopping 60% on last year.
In addition, only six Auskick centres in the Inner Southern Region ran groups exclusively for girls last year. Now half of the region’s 31 centres have girls-only components, which further legitimises football as a genuine sporting option for under-age girls.